Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production
feeding cows

You could be feeding Clostridia.

Posted October 01, 2020 by Tom Rehberger, Ph.D., Director, Research and Product Development

You’ve gone to great lengths to make sure everyone on your forage team knows the importance of harvesting and storing forages the right way. You harvest at the right moisture and chop length, quickly get it to the bunker, pack, then cover with plastic and tires. The ensiled feeds coming out of that storage should be safe for consumption, right?

Not necessarily.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production found that potentially harmful bacteria can escape the fermentation process and cause disease in your cows. Some spore-forming and other bacteria can survive the low pH and organic acid levels present in fermented forages only to regrow during feed-out and in the animal.

Over nearly three years, researchers collected corn silage and haylage samples from 457 dairy farms across 27 states. Here is what they found:

  • 83 percent of haylage samples and 57 percent of corn silage samples tested positive for Clostridia. There are two reasons for higher haylage levels: more dirt contamination at harvest and lower pH levels in fermented corn silage.
  • One-fourth of corn silage and one-third of haylage samples had Clostridia levels above 100 cfu/g, which is at the threshold of cause for concern. In addition, up to 7 percent of samples had clostridial loads above 1,000 cfu/g, which indicates dangerously high levels.
  • Clostridium perfringens was found in 64 percent of samples. C. perfringens Type A is the primary culprit in hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS), and subclinical levels can cause cows to reduce intake.
  • E. coli was also found in haylage and corn silage samples.

More testing is needed to determine the level and severity of harmful bacteria in haylage and corn silage. However, it’s clear from this research that pathogenic bacteria can reside within the forages being fed to your cows. We also know from a vast amount of research and from personal experience that these pathogens can cause significant clinical and subclinical damage in animals of all ages, including a significant reduction in health and performance within the lactating herd.

Since Clostridia and other pathogenic bacteria are present in the environment, it is difficult to completely control animal exposure. However, there are steps to be taken on the dairy to reduce the impact of pathogenic bacteria on the health and performance of your herd.

  • Know your Microbial Terroir. That is, understand the microbial population in the environment, soil and animals on your farm. It’s all the seen and unseen things that make your farm and your herd unique from anywhere else. Once you understand the types and levels of bacteria present on your farm, you can devise a control plan. Your ARM & HAMMER representative can help.
  • Use CERTILLUS to lower the risk of challenges from pathogens. CERTILLUS delivers Targeted Microbial Solutions using proprietary strains of Bacillus selected to combat the specific challenges posed by pathogenic bacteria. The CERTILLUS portfolio of solutions includes products tailored for use in feed, forage and manure. Here’s how to use CERTILLUS products across your farm:
    • Feed: Add CERTILLUS to feed to shift cows from high risk levels of Clostridia to lower risk levels
    • Inoculants: In forages, use the specific CERTILLUS inoculant formulation that fits your management to quickly convert water soluble carbohydrates to lactic acid, lowering silage pH to maximize fermentation and reducing Clostridia counts to lock in nutrients
    • Manure treatment: In manure, use CERTILLUS manure treatment to accelerate the decomposition of dairy waste, reduce odors, thin solids build-up and maintain higher nitrogen content. CERTILLUS can also break the Clostridia cycle, shifting the clostridial diversity before manure is applied to fields that grow forages fed to cows.

      Across 45 U.S. dairy operations CERTILLUS changed clostridial biodiversity, moving cows toward a lower risk of disease.
      Shift in Risk Associated with Total Clostridia before and after treatment with CERTILLUS Chart
  • Keep packing forages. Don’t forget about proper packing and storage of forages in the fight against pathogenic bacteria. Use the proper and approved protocols to pack forages tightly. Cover with plastic and ample amounts of tires to keep oxygen from entering the storage environment.

If you think you have an issue with Clostridia, take quick action to lower challenges and help your cows. Find out what microbial pressures exist on your dairy and target the specific clostridial strains that are challenging your herd with ingredients specifically designed to target pathogenic bacteria. Then review performance and health data to determine success.


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